Archangel Michael Bread: “Feteer Al Malak” فطير الملاك

Sometimes, food becomes our anchor when all else fails.

I helped my five-year-old get on the school bus, waved to her with shaking hands and nervously watched the bus carry her away. She looked fairly confident and contended in her bus seat, but I was torn and puzzled. The separation anxiety was unmercifully rattling my brain. For the first time since her birth, my daughter is being cared for by strangers.

She is off to her first school day. I walked back into the house distracted! In an attempt to regroup, I found myself pulling my tablet and heading to the kitchen. I hysterically browsed the recipe of a forsaken childhood pastry “Feteer al Malak“ or Archangel Micheal.

Despite the miles and years that separate me from my country of origin, this childhood pastry unexpectedly resurfaced, for a reason.  Archangel Michael Pastry is a light vegan alternative to rich eggy Brioche. It is one of these esoteric traditions of the Christian Coptic minority in Egypt, that I grew up watching my grandma dearly keep up.

Second to the church of Jerusalem, the Coptic Orthodox Church is the oldest Christian church. Similar to many religious communities around the world, the Copt Egyptian one has developed, over centuries, peculiar rituals that have impacted their cuisine. The tradition goes that the matriarch of every family bakes this vegan pastry to honor Archangel Michael, the most revered angel in Christian scripture. The matriarch would faithfully entrust st. Michael with the protection of the family’s children.

Given its vegan nature, usually, this pastry is baked during one of many periods of fasting in the Orthodox faith. Legend has it that prior to baking the dough when it is left overnight to proof the yeast, St. Michael marks it with his sword to bless it. Typically, my grandma used to bake this pastry a few times a year. Whenever a family member was sick, applying for a new
job or taking important tests, she was there kneading, shaping and baking. The most beautiful facet of this ritual is that she was sharing these simple yet delicious pastries with her Muslim neighbors as well as Christians, knowing how equally venerated Archangel Michael is in the Islamic faith.

My grandma never wrote down her recipe, but I luckily stumbled on a recipe posted online. I took a deep breath and went ahead with my “mise en place”. The recipe called for basic ingredients that are omnipresent in the pantry of any casual baker. The scene was convenient to experiment. The common sense of a home baker comes to the rescue when the recipe is uncertain. Daringly, I altered the quantity of some ingredients and added some flavorings. The process of making the dough was effectively healing, relaxing, and meditative.

While kneading the dough by hand, I gradually released the tension. And in whispering prayers to St. Michael, my soul found peace. No wonder my grandma often found a good reason to bake these beauties. I opted to leave the dough overnight in the fridge to develop the tangy deep flavor of yeast.

The following morning was marked with a slightly less intense goodbye to my little one. I energetically headed again to my kitchen to finish what I started. I punched the fresh and fragrant dough, to let the air escape and then formed it into balls. With floured fingers, I artfully shaped the crosses and with the assistance of an oily brush, I glued them to the domed bread. I Let the bread balls comfortably rise again in the dark while I sipped my cardamom coffee in front of a bright window. In a preheated oven I popped them in, after egg-washing their smooth surface. I proudly watched the bread rising and nostalgically inhaled the tantalizing smell wafting out. So many precious childhood moments in my grandparent’s house suddenly flashed.

From that day on, this pastry has become a signature one. I bake it at the outset of every school year, in trying times, and at every significant milestone in my kids’ lives. What makes it even a merrier tradition, is sharing the pastry and its story with friends from all walks of life.


Archangel Michael: Feteer Al Malak: فطير الملاك

Recipe adapted by chef Hanaa Fahmy

Makes 12 to 15 medium disks

INGREDIENTS

  • 500 grams all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  •  1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 cup sugar, separated
  • 1 tablespoon  instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of raisins, optional

DIRECTIONS

  1. Proof the yeast:  Add the instant yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar to to the warm water.  Stir well and let the yeast proof in a warm place for 10-15 minutes or until it gets frothy and foamy.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients: Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and the rest of the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  3. Toss the oil into the dry mixture of dry ingredients and make sure that the four mixture is thoroughly coated by the oil.
  4. Make the dough: Make a well in the center of the flour and oil mixture, run the mixer at a low speed and add gradually the yeast mixture, and the vinegar.  Increase the speed. Turn off the mixer when a sticky, soft dough comes together.
  5. Let the dough rise: Transfer the dough to a deep bowl coated with oil.  Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and a clean teal towel, and let the dough rest in a dark place. When the dough doubles in volumes, let it rest in the fridge overnight (see notes). 
  6. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  7. Form the individual pastries:  Divide the dough into equal portion, each is 115 grams.  Shape the individual pastries  by pinching the ends to form a ball and rolling them on the counter with the palm of your hands to smoothen their surface.  To shape the crosses, twist thin threads of dough to in a cross shape and glue it with oil in the middle of each pastry.  Sprinkle them with cinnamon to make the cross motifs pop up when baked.  Arrange the shaped pastries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  8. Brush the disks with oil to give them a shiny golden look when baked.
  9. Let the pastries rise again for 20-30 minutes.
  10. Bake:  Transfer the baking sheet to preheated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are puffy and have a golden crust. Serve hot or at room temperature with jam, cheese or zaatar.

NOTES 

  • This recipe could be halved or doubled.
  • Letting the dough rest overnight, help the yeast to develop a pleasant flavor and aroma when baked.
  • This dough is so forgiving and versatile.  Get creative with trying different savory and sweet fillings.

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Former diplomat | Travel & Food Writer | Stauch advocate of Culinary Diplomacy. Find more here: https://cheznermine.com/about/

11 thoughts on “Archangel Michael Bread: “Feteer Al Malak” فطير الملاك

      1. Thanks! Also – you said 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons of sugar. We use 1 tablespoon with the yeast mixture the 3/4 cup is dissolved in water – but what of the second tablespoon of sugar?

      2. Hi Rasha, The other sugar spoon is mixed in with the flour. In a different note. Are you the spouse Shady Farah? If yes, I am Nermine, Nesrine Mitry’s sister, Shady’s classmate. Thank you for checking my blog.

  1. Yes I am! What a small world. Loving your blog. Hope you are well. I can’t see where the extra tablespoon of flour is mentioned? Which step is it in?
    Also when I tried to bake the discs at 270C they came out quite burned from the outside. I lowered to 240C which worked better

    1. It is a small indeed! Thank you for your feedback, it is very helpful. It seems that I was having too much wine while writing this recipe🙂. I am working on a new batch of plant-based recipe, so this week a bit packed. However, I will redo this recipe next week and let you know of all the changes. Are you still having you food blog and channel?! Would love to follow you. You are the queen of vegan recipes!

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